11th Hour of the 11th Day, of the 11th Month

By Bryan • china, military, nanjing, personal • 11 Nov 2004

This will be the first time in many years that I haven’t attended a Remembrance Day ceremony. I didn’t have a poppy this year, so I made my own, but it fell off a few days ago.

On 15 September 1944, a flight of Hawker Typhoons from No. 438 RCAF Squadron (Wild Cats) took off from their base in France.

Led by Squadron Leader J.R. Beirnes, The Wild Cats were an experienced organization, having seen extensive action in the months leading up to and including Operation Overlord where elements had provided close air support for the Canadian landings at Juno Beach, destroying several concrete bunkers and artillery positions.

Post-Overlord, No. 438 flew daily missions, sometimes two or three a day, against Werhmacht and SS positions in Normandy. The Hawker Typhoon was one of the most heavily armed attack fighters of the war, carrying a variety of rockets, bombs, and machine guns, making an ideal weapon against concealed and entrenched enemy forces.

Following several days of dive bombing sorties against mortars, infantry and tanks, No. 438 had been assigned an armed reconnaissance mission over Trun, a village in the Falaise region of France.

Flying Typhoon (MN.246) was Flying Officer William H. Morrison (Harry) of Montreal, Quebec. F.O. Morrison joined the RCAF in 1941 and earned his wings in late 1943. Chosen for a fighter assignment he was qualified on the Typhoon and assigned to No. 438 Squadron in March, and began combat operations in early May 1944. The armed recce was to be Morrison’s 49th combat mission of the war.

Shortly after finishing their mission objectives, the flight encountered several vehicles clustered around an enemy installation. The order was given for a low level strafing run against the position.

The Hawker Typhoon, although well armed, was notoriously difficult to fly, with an underpowered engine and several structural flaws. While “Going Down” (the motto of the Wild Cats) F.O. Morrison Typhoon clipped some nearby trees, causing his plane to spin back on its y-axis. Because of the extreme low altitude, Morrison was unable to regain control of the aircraft in time, and the Typhoon hit the ground, exploding upon impact.

Despite inconsistencies regarding events on the ground after the crash, F.O Morrison was officially declared Killed in Action on 12 September 1945 at 23 years of age. He is buried in the Canadian Military Cemetery at Bretteville-sur-Laize, Grave No. 6, row G, Plot 24.

In the summer of 2004, I received an email from a representative of an organization based out of Quebec. Because of an unfortunate misunderstanding between myself and my former website hosting company, I have lost all of his emails, including both his name and company.

This man only wrote in French, requiring creative use of an internet translator. He told me that in late July 2004, he had attended a service in France in which a brand new memorial had been erected in the honour of F.O. William H. Morrison and Lt. Harold Fesselemyer, an American pilot.

Memorial 1
Memorial 2

I am extremely proud and honoured to be a relation of F.O. Morrison.

I know for many, Remembrance Day holds no meaning. In 2002 the University of Guelph Students Society voted against holding any type of Remembrance ceremony on grounds that it glorified war. While selling/offering poppies in the mall as an Air Cadet, I was told by one individual that he “doesn’t buy that fucking shit”. Others believe in a post-Remembrance Day, in which the day is used to commemorate all whose lives have been affected by war.

There are many thoughts on what Remembrance Day is, what it should be, and where is should go. For me, Remembrance Day will always be bitterly cold. Standing in the snow, watching breath freeze on my nose, wishing I was indoors enjoying warmth of my day off. I realized that this was nothing. This insignificant fifteen minutes I have to stand in the cold with my insulated boots, jacket hat and mitts is nothing. It’s nothing to stand there for fifteen minutes when millions had to stand for months in the frozen wastelands of the Ardennes Forest, the ice waters of the North Atlantic, or the cold muck of Flanders. I would tell myself that, and I still do. I have a warm house, warm clothing, and warm food and drink. I have these warm things because someone else decided to stand in the cold for me.

When I moved to Victoria, I would attend the Remembrance Day ceremonies at the Legislature. Victoria has a very warm climate, year round, but I always froze on November 11th.

Nanjing is known as the ‘oven’ of China…I wore a sweater today.

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3 Responses

  1. Gord Beirnes

    Nice to read something about the Wildcat Squadron and my father.

    Amen to your comments about Remembrance Day.

  2. Hello Bryan, it’s great to see that there is information about this on the net.

    My grandfather, Roy Burden was the Flight Lieutenant of 438 Squadron, and is one of the signees of the Typhoon Fury print by Robert Bailey.

    I’m writing this tonight because I’ve just come back from Eagle Ridge Hospital where he is fighting bladder cancer, but we fear he isn’t going to make it for much longer. He’s been fighting various health problems recently, some from the War, others from the years he spend in the sun down in Palm Springs, and now bladder cancer.

    I’m going to write more on my blog in the near future, but I just wanted to let you know that it was nice to hear of others related to 438 Squadron that are interested in that history.

  3. Gordon McDonald

    Hello Alex,
    My Father Alex McDonald flew with your Grandather Roy in 438 squadron during the war. Unfortunately my Father passed away last May and I continued to go to the Squadron meetings and became friends with your Grandfather Roy and had the privilege and pleasure of becoming his friend and we attended squadron functions for the last 2 years. He is indeed a gentleman and according to my Father an excellent pilot. I visted your Grandfather today at Eagle Ridge Hospital along with another of his squadron mates, Mr Fred Berg who serviced your Grandfather’s plane as an armourer. I hope that we will be able to continue the squadron meetings as the Son’s and Grandson’s are very interested in learning more about what their Father’s and Grandfather’s did during the war,

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